In two weeks, many of us will be taking a well-deserved break to enjoy two months (!) without classes and with the benefits of holiday celebrations.
Winter break during a pandemic has some additional elements to think through. Some of us will likely be switching up or adding to the people with whom we closely and regularly interact. Many health precautions for those scenarios require at least two weeks. Act now to protect yourself and the ones you love this winter break.
- Get a flu vaccine if you haven’t received one yet. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to provide protection for you. Flu shots are offered outside of Campus Health M – F1 – 5 pm, or at Student Stores Pharmacy during open hours (9 am – 5 pm, M – F, Sat 11 am – 3 pm). No appointment needed.
- Reduce your risk of being exposed to COVID in the two weeks before you travel and while traveling: limit the number of individuals you interact with, limit the time and duration spent near other people, be thoughtful about the location of interactions (outdoor is better than indoors) and practice the 3Ws: wash your hands frequently, wear a face mask and wait six feet from other people. The CDC has further holiday gathering and travel guidance.
- Take a COVID-19 test prior to departure. Free testing is offered at the Union for UNC students (but only if you don’t have symptoms and have not been in close contact with someone who is positive). Results are typically in 1-2 days, and hours are extended 11/16 – 11/20 to 11 am – 7 pm M – F. For those with symptoms or exposure, Campus Health offers diagnostic testing M – F 9 am – 12 pm, 1 pm – 4 pm. Remember that a negative test is not a free pass to skip other precautions.
Why you need more than a negative test
Testing as a sole strategy for COVID risk reduction doesn’t work well because it can take 2-14 days for someone who is exposed to SARS-CoV-2 to develop symptoms of COVID-19. It is recommended that individuals wait until ~4-5 days after being exposed to a case of COVID-19 to get tested, since before this point, the false negative rate is high.
There are many examples of folks getting tested a day or two before embarking on a trip or going to an event, only to have one of the attendees become positive during or just after the event, potentially infecting many people.
You should still get tested before you travel or attend gatherings. A positive test should change holiday plans; a negative test, however, only gives you information for that point in time and doesn’t mean you will remain negative after that test. Even if you (and others!) have a negative test, still:
- wear a mask
- stay physically distanced
- avoid crowds and indoor crowded places
- wash your hands frequently
- monitor for symptoms and
- minimize contact with people at high risk of COVID-19 complications.
If you decide you want to be indoors for an extended time without masks
While higher risk, being inside without masks is sometimes what people choose for themselves. Roommates and family members often come to agreements about risk behaviors and then live together without masks in their home. With holidays coming, a traditional holiday dinner, where there will be extended time around a table with people from outside your home while eating and drinking, would also fit this category. You also may be moving for winter break and will be living with a new set of roommates.
The safest strategy for these scenarios is for all attendees/future roommates to quarantine for 14 days before coming together, consider how to eliminate risk of exposure during travel, and get tested early enough to get test results before traveling/moving in together. For many of us – that means starting to quarantine THIS WEEK.
Holiday Gathering Guidance
You can also help reduce risk at your holiday gathering itself.
- Host outdoors if possible. If indoors, open the windows and doors if safe and feasible.
- Limit the number of people attending.
- Have extra, new masks (in case someone forgets) and hand sanitizer available.
- Arrange tables and chairs for separation.
- Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled.
- Have one household approach the food serving area at a time to prevent congregating.
- Consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people aren’t handling serving utensils.
- Have high risk individuals attend virtually.
We want things to be normal again, and also know that everything is different right now. If you decide not to attend a holiday celebration – that’s perfectly understandable! Tell people clearly and firmly. Focus on your decision about what’s best for you. Avoid getting into the details about the reasons behind your decision. You don’t need to defend your position.
We realize that this holiday season will likely look different that in the past. There are lots of creative ideas for how to connect with people you love! Find a celebration strategy that feels safe and healthy for you and your loved ones.